The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

List Of Essential SF Novels

Posted by BigWords on December 10, 2010

In case you missed the numerous lists around here, and over there (where it seems to have gotten out of hand), there is something of a theme developing. Namely, I can’t help but surround myself with lists. Be it lists of films, books, music – it doesn’t really matter. Lists form one of the regular attractions in my world of OCD-fueled weirdness, and have become as much a form of writing as the fiction which I put together. There’s something about the systematic organization of data which helps me relax, that it is inconceivable for me to pass up any opportunity to go one better than anyone else when it comes to the more complex ones.

Hence my latest plan – the ultimate list of SF lists. As I was putting together the last couple of pages of the zombie list, I realized that the numerous SF lists out there tended to group together in some areas while retaining outliers (there are a few books which seem to have a lot of love from small – but very dedicated – fan bases), old favorites (the classics aren’t universally beloved), and… Well, I’m not saying that the compilers of existing lists are eccentric, though there does tend to be the odd title mentioned which seems to be for no other reason than to say “Hey, I’ve read more books than you.” Um… Missing the point slightly, methinks. Anyways, the main candidates for my attention are as follows-

  • Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984 by David Pringle (Xanadu, 1985) ISBN-10: 094776111X ISBN-13: 9780947761110
  • The Guardian – 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: Science Fiction & Fantasy Part One; Part Two; Part Three.
  • 100 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read by John Harmon
  • 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels by Stephen E. Andrews & Nick Rennison (A&C Black, 2007) ISBN-13: 9780713675856
  • Phobos’ 100 Best Science Fiction Books by Keith Olexa
  • SFX – The 100 Writers Who Shaped Science Fiction (#196-198, July-September)

That’s a damn impressive bunch of lists right there, but I need more. There were a few moments when it seemed that the lists would be endless, and I could pick and choose which ones to pore over, though the realization that a great many of the lists out there on the interwebs are cut-and-paste jobs of those few original ones hit hard. Is it really so difficult to cite the greatest SF novels? I’m still adding in the references and information about the books onto my meta-list, but I need further lists to make the resulting data set more rounded. With what I have so far – as meager as the material is – there’s a decent snapshot of a genre as of this moment, but there’s little historical importance there. There isn’t, for instance, any indication of how the best of SF was perceived in the 60s or 70s.

I may yet be forced to note Hugo winners in a bid to fill out the results of this experiment in list-making.

If you’re interested, the pages will be up some time during the weekend.


2 Responses to “List Of Essential SF Novels”

  1. Chris Meli said

    I started on this same project around the same time – I just came across your post today. In my case I blame Jonathan Franzen’s piece in the NYT book review that came out before _Freedom_ was published, by which he shamed me into going back to reading fiction. At that point I worked up my “must-read fiction” list, and by overlap started on my “must-read SF list”. I’ve read maybe 50% of the “core” books in the genre so I had a good sense of which lists were sensible or appealed to me. For example, the list at is interesting, but incredible as far as a “best” list. I am mostly in line with your choices of lists, but I have looked at many others as well. I’d be interested to understand why you didn’t include these:

    The biggest problem for me is list overlap – lists influencing other lists. Ideally the meta-list would be the result of independent lists, but it could be all of these lists are strongly influenced by a few “key” lists, and generally there is no easy way to determine this. I am not really stressing on this as I figure if a book shows up on a few lists it is probably worth my time.

    “Lists form one of the regular attractions in my world of OCD-fueled weirdness” – amen.

  2. bigwords88 said

    I actually did look at the first of those links as a possible additional reference, though it soon became apparent that it would need an incredible amount of time to keep updated as the titles are liable to change. If the list was fixed (and rendering the entire point of the list redundant as a democratic one) I would be more attracted to the notion, but as long as it is subject to change, the meta-list from the named resources would rapidly be superseded by changes there. It’s a worthy place to look for recommendations from fellow readers (and contains a couple of books I really need to pick up), but I can’t see how I could incorporate it without compromising the very notion which makes it stand out.

    Having said all that, it should have been referenced as an additional place to seek out great titles.

    The second list is far more interesting as a stable (i.e. not subject to change) representation of SF titles. To give credit where it is due in the footnotes, it would be nice if I knew who put it together though. Regardless, I give my thanks for linking those – if left to my own devices I would most likely have forgotten all about updating this post in favor of concentrating on the meta-list. 🙂

    Always glad to have like-minded people comment. 😀

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